Last weekend I had my first ever DNF, at the Hardmoors 50. At the time I was massively annoyed with myself. I’d followed a plan, my training had gone well and I thought I was prepared. But, as it turns out, even the best of training can’t prepare you for the worst of weather, which is what did for me on the day. A few hours after I’d abandoned I found out that many others had done the same, or been timed out, so I didn’t feel so bad. So I can’t give a proper race review, but I can explain how the day panned out for me and lots of other people there!
The weather forecast looked great the week before the event, but gradually deteriorated until it became clear that race day would involve continuous heavy rain and very strong wind. Combined with the height and exposure of the North York Moors, this wasn’t a promising omen. It was possible to sign on the night before the race, so Steve and I travelled up to Guisborough on Friday evening, where I registered at the Sea Cadets hall. I was asked to show two items from my mandatory kit, then had my photo taken to be fitted with an electronic tracker.
I’d booked a bargain room for the night at the Travelodge in Middlesbrough, just a few miles away. I always sleep restlessly the night before a big race. I woke up at around 3 am and wondered if it had started raining. I looked out of the window and it was already pouring down, which it continued to do so for the rest of the night and most of the next day. When the alarm went off at 6 Steve told me I didn’t have to go, but I really didn’t want to wimp out and DNS after all the hard work I’d put into training.
The next morning it was heaving in the Sea Cadets hall as hundreds of runners and their supporters sheltered from the rain. We all just wanted to get going! After a detailed briefing we set off slightly late at 8.15 and headed up through Guisborough Woods to the Cleveland Way.
There are a couple of stiles to negotiate in the first mile or so, which involves a bit of frustrating queuing, then it’s up the dreaded Tees Link to Highcliff Nab. This was the first race where I’d used my new Leki running poles, and they proved invaluable on this steep, muddy track.
I got into a good rhythm here and, although I was walking, managed to overtake several other people who were sliding around. Although it was raining heavily, working hard kept us warm in the first few miles, as there’s a lot of climbing!
Shortly after this came the double ascent/descent of Roseberry Topping, aka the Yorkshire Matterhorn. The poles were really useful here too, not least because the wind was so strong near the summit they helped me to remain upright! We passed through the first checkpoint at Roseberry Lane. I heard my number being shouted out, but noticed later that for some reason my time for this leg wasn’t recorded on the tracker website; this means that had I managed to finish I would probably have incurred a time penalty for missing a checkpoint, which would have been really annoying. It had taken me about an hour and 45 minutes to cover the first five miles!
The course climbed up again after Roseberry, to Captain Cook’s monument. I took advantage of the slightly easier uphill gradient to have some flapjack, as I’d become aware I hadn’t eaten anything since the start with the terrain being so challenging. The course undulated a bit, but after a few more miles there was a very welcome long descent into Kildale, where the second checkpoint (at ten miles) was at the village hall. It had taken me three hours to get there, and it was nice to be inside for a few minutes, although it did make me realise how wet I’d become. I retrieved my first drop bag here, and ate a bag of Mini Cheddars while I emptied some rubbish out of my shoes. While I was doing this I realised that a couple of people were already retiring. I refilled my bottles, took a Chia Charge bar for the road and headed out again. It wasn’t easy to get going again after the warmth of the village hall. There’s a long climb on Tarmac out of Kildale, and I tried to run as much of it as possible in an attempt to warm up.
What followed turned out to be the longest/slowest ten miles of my life! After climbing out of Kildale to the top of the moors we maintained our height for several miles, on a very exposed stretch including Bloworth Crossing. There wasn’t any hard going along here, but the weather was so brutal it made everything seem massively difficult. Horizontal rain was lashing us so hard it felt like hailstones. The wind was so strong it was impossible to run on ground that would have been totally runnable on a normal day. Ankle deep streams of icy water crossed our path. I was literally soaked to the skin, and freezing cold because I couldn’t move fast enough to warm up. My waterproof mittens filled up with water(!) When I took one off to empty it I couldn’t get it back on properly. My race number, fixed on with four safety pins, blew off my leg at some point. It was impossible to get food out to eat. I did manage to keep drinking, although I didn’t much feel like it in the cold. There was absolutely no point stopping, because there was nowhere to stop! We all just had to keep plugging on until the next checkpoint at Clay Bank – 20 miles in.
At some point I during this section I decided I wanted to call it a day. I’m a pretty tough old bird and don’t consider myself a quitter, but the conditions had become horrendous. Had we just been doing a marathon I could have toughed it out; but I couldn’t bear the idea of another 33 miles of mostly walking because it wasn’t possible to run. I wasn’t equipped for walking, and was getting so cold it would probably have been a stupid idea to try and finish. I was hugely frustrated because, despite the difficulties I had been overtaking people, but it just wasn’t sustainable. I reached Clay Bank after about six hours, and told a marshal I wanted to stop. He asked me if I was sure. I was. My tracker was removed and I climbed into a marshal’s car to shelter until the checkpoint closed, when I’d be taken to the finish at Helmsley.
As I waited, quite a few other people made the same sad decision and joined me in the car. Everyone was saying they’d never experienced weather like it in a race. We were all sad, cold and wet, but trying to cheer each other up, chatting and sharing food and drink while we waited. About an hour later a lovely marshal called Drew ferried us to the finish. It was hard to pass through the entrance of Helmsley recreation ground and see the Hardmoors flags flying; I should have been running through there hours later. Inside, people were laying out the finishers’ t-shirts and medals, which I wouldn’t now pick up. I heard the first runner was due to arrive in about half an hour and marvelled at their powers of strength and resilience. We were offered hot drinks and even a shower, but I just wanted to get home. Steve came and picked me up shortly afterwards. Bedraggled and miserable, I dont think I was very good company at this point!
At home later, when I’d warmed up and eaten, I kept checking in on the race online as I sorted out my sodden kit. A lot of people either abandoned or were timed out at the 30 mile point, Osmotherley. It seemed that pretty much the only people who were able to finish were those with support crews and/or the opportunity to change their clothes. The cut off time for the end of the race was midnight (16 hours). Trying to understand the finish rate afterwards, it seems that around 500 people were on the list of entrants pre-race. Of those, there seem to be 287 finishers on the results list and (by my calculation) around 120 people who retired – so for whatever reason around 100 people didn’t actually start. I didn’t feel quite so bad once I’d got to grips with these figures. And my lovely boss made me this medal to make up for not having collected the official one!
Do I regret entering and starting the Hardmoors 50? People have been asking me that quite a bit this week. The (maybe surprising) answer is no, I don’t. Despite the atrocious conditions I turned up and had a go when others didn’t. I feel that retiring was the right decision for me (and many others) on the day, and I have nothing but respect for those who managed to finish. I learned a lot about taking on an ultra in the winter, and met some lovely people. Would I go back next year? I haven’t decided yet. I’m also entered into the Hardmoors 60 in September. If I manage to get through that I might have to come back to complete the Cleveland Way circle…